The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on March 27 issued a statement calling on the government of Colombia to "take urgent measures" to protect social leaders and human rights defenders in response to the wave of assassinations over recent months. The statement asserted that 22 rights defenders had been killed in Colombia in the first two months of the year, and over 100 more threatened with death. The assassinations come in an atmosphere of violence across much of the country's rural areas, with some 2,500 displaced in recent months. Just three days after the IACHR statement, on Good Friday, community leader and local rights advocate Belisario Benavides Ordóñez was slain by unknown gunmen on motorcycles as she was leaving her home accompanied by her two young children in the town of Rosas, Cauca department. Benavides was a leader of the Rosas Victims' Table, made up of local residents displaced by political violence over the past generation and now demanding restitution for lost lands and property. In a second case that same day, a community leader in Cauca's village of Corinto, Héctor Janer Latín, was slain in a road ambush while riding his motorcycle to an outlying hamlet. These attacks spurred renewed calls from the National Confederation of Communal Action (CNAC) for a response from the government and IACHR. (El Tiempo, April 2; El Colombiano, March 27)
Colombia's two guerilla groups that remain in arms pledged this week to open a dialogue with each other to bring their internecine conflict to an end. Fighting broke out weeks ago between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and its smaller rival, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPL) in the northeastern Catatumbo region. William Villamizar, governor of Norte de Santander department, has declared a state of emergency over the violence, which he said has displaced some 1,000 families. The fighting is said to have begun as the two groups vied to take control of coca-growing lands vacated by the demobilized FARC guerillas. (Colombia Reports, April 24; BBC News, April 17; El Colombiano, April 9; El Tiempo, April 4)
The US Congress this week finalized a 2018 budget that maintains aid to Colombia at its 2017 level, $391 million—despite efforts by President Donald Trump to slash the amount. The package includes large sums for human rights training and aid to the displaced, with some advocates hailing it as a boost to Colombia's peace process. Continuance of this level of aid is "a huge support to peace accord implementation," according to Adam Isacson at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The budget passed both House and Senate this week. Despite a previous veto threat, Trump signed the budget bill March 23, just in time to avoid yet another government shutdown. There have already been two brief shutdowns during the protracted fight over the budget. This budget authorizes spending through September. The Republican-controlled Congress firmly rejected not only Trump’s proposal to slash aid to Colombia, but his overall foreign policy goal of dramatically reducing aid throughout Latin America and the world, and significantly cutting the international diplomacy budget of the State Department.
Colombian authorities are clearly hoping that a return to stability following the peace pact with the FARC rebels will mean more international investment, and especially for the resource sector. But hydro-electric, fracking and mineral projects across the country are already meeting with peasant resistance—prompting state security forces to respond with repression. In the Rio Cauca Canyon of Antioquia department, the feared National Police militarized anti-riot force ESMAD has initiated the forcible eviction of campesinos who have refused relocation to make way for the floodplain of the massive Hidroituango dam project. Ironically, commuity leaders opposed to relocation in the municipalities of Sabanalarga and Ituango have reportedly been threatened by personnel in the employ of Refocosta, the firm contracted by the Medellín Public Utility to oversee environmental mitigation in the project. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 12) Ituango municipality has especially been the scene of a recent resurgence of paramilitary violence that has left hundreds of residents displaced.
Colombia's peace process continues to advance, with institutional mechanisms for a post-war order falling into place. On March 1, the country's Constitutional Court upheld the Amnesty Law agreed upon as part of the transitional justice process for ex-combatants. The ruling also restricted it somewhat, giving Congress greater power to determine when a defendant applies for the program. (Contagio Radio, March 1) The National Land Agency (ANT) reports that the Land Fund established for a new agrarian reform as a condition of the peace accords now holds 200.000 hectares. ANT hopes to have 3 million hectares for redistribution to landless peasants by 2028. (El Tiempo, March 1)
In the early hours of March 5, a group of four armed men attacked the cabildo (town hall) in the indigenous resguardo (reserve) of Pioyá in Caldono municipality of Colombia's Cauca department. Slain in the attack was an indigenous youth named Eider Campo Hurtado, who was an activist with the local media collective Pelsxhab Stéreo. Pioyá's Indigenous Guard mobilized in response to the attack, and that night apprehended four men said to be members of a renegade FARC faction that has refused to lay down arms and abide by the peace accords. The four are being held by Pioyá indigenous authorities, and it is unclear if they will be turned over to state security forces. (W Radio, Canal 1, Contagio Radio)
Colombia's ELN guerillas carried out a string of attacks in a new offensive aimed at shutting down the South American country, mostly targeting transportation infrastructure. According to authorities, roads were bombed in Norte de Santander and Cesar departments, and a bus and a truck were incinerated in Antioquia. Vehicles were also set on fire in Arauca, and two trucks torched in Cauca, although authorities could not immediately confirm that these attack was carried out by the ELN. The four-day "armed strike" was called Feb. 10, weeks after a ceasefire broke down and days after the government suspended peace talks with the ELN. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 12; EuroNews, Feb. 10)
Colombia's former FARC rebels, now organized as a political party, announced Feb. 9 that they will suspend their campaign for the first elections since their demobilization last year. The FARC—their acronym now standing for the Alternative Revolutionary Force of the People—cited a lack of security for their candidates, campaign workers and followers. Campaign workers in several cities have received death threats, according to the FARC statement. Campaign rallies throughout Colombia were canceled after angry mobs threw bottles and rocks at former guerilla leaders and their supporters.